Jo Nesbo- Macbeth #BlogTour

He’s the best cop they’ve got. When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. But a man like him won’t get to the top. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his. Unless he kills for it.

With the Hogarth Shakespeare Project calling on the talents of some of the acclaimed novelists of today, to retell a selection of Shakespeare’s finest plays, who better to reimagine Macbeth with all its inherent darkness than bestselling crime author Jo Nesbo. Talking of his inspiration for his own Macbeth, Nesbo says that the original is “a thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy, noir like setting, and in a dark, paranoid human mind”, so not that far removed from the familiar crime writing tropes  we all recognise, So how does Nesbo’s take on this Shakespeare classic measure up?

Having pretty much forgotten the plot of Macbeth since reading it years ago, it was quite enjoyable not overthinking the comparisons and similarities between the play and Nesbo’s rendition, so however scant your knowledge of the original, the key characters and pivotal scenes are well in evidence here. The book is suffused with direct and reworked familiar quotes from the play, and at times there’s a cheery playfulness to how Nesbo attributes them to certain characters, tempered by the darkest proclamations that arise from the darkest deeds in the book. Sometimes the language feels a little over reliant on  quotes, even a touch forced. It seems that Nesbo gets too caught up in the need to echo the original, and the dialogue that comes from some characters seems a little disingenuous to our perception of them, and makes the dialogue rigid at times.  

However, like Shakespeare’s version, and as Nesbo alluded to himself, the key theme is power, and the desperate, violent and dehumanising actions that one man, the eponymous police officer Macbeth, takes to gain and consolidate power. As one character says of Macbeth’s lust for power, “He’s already managed to divest himself of any emotions that tie him to morality and humanity, now power is his new and only lover” and this is what Nesbo captures so perfectly in his characterisation. Macbeth, aided and abetted by his conniving lover Lady, is an intense and mesmerising character throughout, battling his physical addiction to ‘brew’, scheming and plotting, driven by his suffocating love for Lady and his own thirst for complete autocracy. I loved the sense of this claustrophobic vacuum that they exist in, completely immersed in each other, and both hungry for power, until the seismic shift in their relationship. Likewise, I thought that Duff was an incredibly interesting character, at one time the absolute confidante of Macbeth, but now as obsessed with justice as Macbeth is with power, whatever the cost to them both. There is a large cast of characters, and Nesbo balances them very well in what is more of a reading marathon than a sprint, keeping the reader on the back foot with the double dealing, betrayal, and sudden outbursts of extreme violence, as faithful to Shakespeare himself, he decreases them by the page by nefarious means. 

Undoubtedly, my favourite aspect of the book was the setting, in a reimagined Scottish city replete with poisonous air, seedy backstreets, the purveyors of human misery in drugs or gambling, a crumbling economy, but all resonating with the echo of history. Nesbo is incredibly good at grounding the reader in the specific location against which his characters vent and rage. plot and scheme and love and die, and there’s an incredibly visual quality to the book as a whole which is vital to alleviate the intensity of the raw emotions much in evidence here. This, and the very well defined characterisation was definitely central to my overall enjoyment of the book, which, although a little drawn out at times, slowed down by the necessity to reference the original a little too tenaciously, was a satisfying read overall. It mostly captured the dark and dangerous ambition and melancholy of Shakespeare’s original, and I’m sure this proved a very interesting writing experience for Nesbo himself.

To buy Macbeth by Jo Nesbo click here!

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(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC) 

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Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Big Sister

Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously.
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…

Just when you thought that wily private investigator Varg Veum’s personal life couldn’t get any more complicated, Staalesen illustrates once again his ability to stretch his character to almost breaking point. Grappling with ghosts of the past, and a particularly emotional and troublesome missing person case, Veum is tested to the limit in the course of this all too personal investigation…

It goes without saying that Staalesen consistently produces crime thrillers to the highest standard, and considering how many books have featured the mercurial Varg Veum it is a remarkable achievement to keep a main protagonist so fresh and interesting after so many encounters. And yet this is what Staalesen does, and Big Sister is no exception. From the nod to Chandler in the title of the book itself, Staalesen once again engages us completely with Veum in his now trademark drily witty and hardboiled style. It’s almost as if Staalesen treats Veum as a metaphorical onion, peeling back layer after layer to reveal other aspects of Veum’s character, and unerringly placing him in difficult physical and emotional situations, which are all the more entertaining for us. I think the thing I enjoy most though is the very palpable sense of Veum getting older, and how he reacts differently to situations he’s placed in, as opposed to his younger self, whilst retaining that slightly gung-ho impetuousness and then realising his physical limitations as an older man. The deadpan humour, and cynical world view are in evidence as normal, but Staalesen tempers this beautifully with Veum’s realisation that his life to this point has not been all that it appears, and weighs him down beautifully as to how far he should pursue the truth of his family history. I loved the unfolding of this particular part of the plot, as Veum tries to reconcile his own character with what he knows of where his true parentage lies, and his sudden inclusion in a family and community as the truth of the past is revealed. Staalesen handles this arc of the story sensitively, and fully conveys the emotional confusion that Veum experiences, whilst tempering it to perfection with Veum’s naturally stoical personality.

In the main plot of the missing person investigation, Staalesen again weaves a complex connectivity between Veum and those he encounters, as they seek to evade and conceal their involvement with the victim. This book again takes us to some very dark places dealing with weighty issues such as sexual abuse, suicide, organised crime and addiction, and as always Veum’s gritty determination to solve the case, leads him and those closest to him into physical danger. I always enjoy Veum’s interactions with those he questions, chipping away at them until they either give up what the know, or punch him on the nose. Staalesen’s fluid dialogue, so resonant of the hardboiled masters, is here in spades, and complimented by a twisting and testing plot,  and with no exceedingly obvious guilty party there was, as always, much to enjoy here. With pithy references to the ills of contemporary society, the habitual strong sense of place, and a beautifully weighted translation again by Don Bartlett,  Big Sister is a brilliant addition to one of the most consistent and enjoyable European crime thriller series. Just what will Staalesen put Veum through next I wonder…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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